The Bird and The Bee: Living Past the Future

Text by Markus von Pfeiffer
Photography by Autumn de Wilde

It didn’t happen in their home base town of Los Angles. That would be too cheap. In addition it would break my blood-oath of never returning to the city which casts no shadows—even on the warmest of summer days. No, we three met in San Diego and rode the waves on my pint-sized manservant and confidant Adolfo’s 280-foot Neorion yacht named Mittens’ Pride. Sipping Earl Grey tea and Mojitos, I was informed by-the-by on how The Bird and The Bee came to be and how, after a successful, eponymous-titled debut, Inara George and Greg Kurstin have positioned themselves, come January, to lance the limbic system of discerning music lovers the world over with a bright, airy javelin of an LP enigmatically titled: Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future.

Let’s start with that. It seems George bore witness to an episode of 60 Minutes wherein it was revealed that, yes, the government of our own United States had developed ray gun technology. It is perhaps not what one might imagine Flash Gordon wielding, but designed to be employed in high-energy blast turrets on armored vehicles. “There comes a moment with anything you’ve imagined, when it becomes reality, catches up with the ‘now’,” she explains. “It’s often different than you dreamt it would be. I don’t think anyone would have thought music technology would have ended up like this. When I started in music we were using tape, splicing tape.”

So… technology, art, mankind as a whole, is enmeshed in one roiling and inexorable wave, advancing uncheckable upon our very imaginations. Therefore, everything is possible—or will be. An intriguing premise for a band that is conscious of, and pulls so very heavily, upon the past. Tropicalia psychedelia, ’60s Bacharach lounge, ’80s pop, jazz standards of yore, ragtime—you name it. And they do it using only the most current of tools. There’s not one “live” instrument on the album.

“Sir,” Adolfo softly interrupts, “Please follow me.” We make our way towards the stern of the ship where our afternoon’s diversion has been prepared. Draped in velvet and housed in a platinum-plated case are three pre-war Greifelt #1 12-gauge over/under shotguns with intricate chase scene engravings wrought by my own grandfather, Hans. We agree on Olympic rules, which stipulates a .3 second delay after “pull” is called—thereby introducing an enticing element of anticipation. Trusty Adolfo situates himself in the trap booth. “Did you know,” I ask them, “that the word ‘skeet’ is derived from the Scandinavian word for ‘shoot’?” We all three clink our glasses together, tilt our heads back, laugh and establish a firing rhytum which continues thoughout the rest of the day.

Ray Guns could function well as an optimistic, even utopian, Blake Edwards sci-fi musical based in Rio de Janeiro starring George—Audrey Hepburn with a voice. The plot? Her quest is to inspire fun. Incidentally, “fun” was the word which, besides the obvious pronouns and verbs, occurs most in our discussion. They hadn’t expected much from their first LP, releasing it on a sort of lark, “We were having fun and hadn’t expected anything to come of it,” says Kurstin. Now that their fan base has been established and is growing with the exponential fury of a napalm drop, they don’t seem to feel much different. The stresses of larger shows, larger contracts, larger expectations wilt impotent in the face of their glee: “The little bit of success we had with the first one made me feel that people liked what we’d done; made me feel a little more self-assured,” George confesses as she blitzes two clay pigeons with one shot. BOOM. “We’re stepping out a bit more, having more fun,” agrees Kurstin. Even more fun? Bravo.
It doesn’t detract from their confidence that George, a member of the short-lived yet widely acclaimed ‘90s-era band, Lode, carries heavy heritage wampum—her father being the front man for Little Feat; and that Kurstin had worked with Beck, The Flaming Lips, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and jazz vibraphone legend Bobby Hutcherson before being introduced by mutual friend and producer Scott Andrews during the construction of George’s first solo album: All Rise which you can imagine was not recorded in their parent’s basement.

Somehow their music, breezy and effervescent, should be placed on the ‘sophisticated,’ not the ‘bubblegum’ bookshelf of pop; although, echoes of The Tom Tom Club, Bananarama and St. Etienne abound. Why? How? If one were to listen to a single track, say, “My Love,” a piece which has resurrected handclaps as a legitimate device, one might appreciate and categorize it as simply light and pleasant. The same could be said of “Love Letter to Japan,” an ode to the country which has lent its sword arm to the advancement of their first LP. It’s not until the album reveals itself as a whole, its variegated roots and the tongue-in-cheek humor with which it is delivered, that the urge to guard your copy fiercely against all comers begins to manifest itself.

“About your name, The Bird and The Bee, is it something akin to he being the busy bee, alighting here and there, pollinating keyboard, laptop and any instruments which happens to be in the general vicinity with his graced imagination whilst, you the bird… perhaps a nightingale, accompany and lend cadence to his movements with a voice that might inspire lovers to historical deeds?” I inquire. “No,” she replies. “Our initial name had been Falling Leaves, which turned out to have already been taken. So, we chose the name of one of our first songs to replace it.” “Oh,” say I, abashed.

The sun has slid halfway to the sea, and the awkwardness of a first meeting has dissolved. “What’s your composition process?” I ask. “Well, we start out noodling around on the piano until something begins to take shape. After a point I begin to fill out the melody a bit and George breaks off to pen the lyrics. Usually we finish about the same time,” Kurstin says. “On the first album he contributed one word. On Ray Guns it was a full line. He’s making progress.” George interjects. BOOM. Kurstin has his first ‘kill’ of the day. “He certainly is,” I agree. At this point we all three clink our glasses together, tilt our heads back and laugh.
And so on.